One of the things that I fear the most when leading a guided tour is the absence of birds - naturally. Kumar and Sujatha's first day of tour did not start off well. This couple from Chennai dipped out on the roosting Barred Eagle-owls at Kulim that I normally show guests. And I should have heeded the warning. We were greeted by the dawn chorus and clear blue skies at the Sungai Sedim car park. However, apart from the Treeswifts at their usual morning perch and a teasing Scarlet-rumped trogon, there was nothing much about that I could actually show. Three hours had passed and still nothing. It was as though the forest had swallowed every single bird. The stress and anxiety was killing me. I was half expecting Kumar to walk up to me and ask me if there will be birds in my guided bird tour.
Thankfully, that did not happen. Out of desperation, I took my guests on a trail less trodden and at the end of that trail, my prayers were answered - a fruiting tree that was alive with bird activity. At that moment, I could safely say my job was done. With my composure and confidence back to normal, I started to point out the birds starting with this Cream-vented Bulbul.
With only the eye colouration being the most distinct difference between the Red-eyed Bulbul and Cream-vented Bulbul, a confiding Red-eyed Bulbul would probably be the best way I could show my guest the differences. Ask and you shall receive…
A total of nine different bulbuls were recorded at the tree and apart from the sulking Yellow-bellied Bulbul, we managed to photograph all of them. This Hairy-backed Bulbul was almost as difficult and provided very few shots.
By the time the Finsch's Bulbul decided to drop in, the bulbuls at this fruiting tree really had me singing for my supper as I had to differentiate all of them to my client. I could imagine how confusing all these bulbuls are to visiting birders. When not seen well, bulbuls can be confusing to me as well.
The Grey-cheeked Bulbul was being itself today - bulky, vocal and robust. It was certainly hard to overlook it despite the presence of so many other bulbuls.
There are some Bulbuls that certainly do not require much effort to differentiate them from the rest like this splendid Grey-bellied Bulbul.
A pair of Ashy Bulbuls announced their arrival to the fruiting tree with their nasal and persistent calls. This strikingly marked bulbul made our observation at this fruiting all so rewarding.
One of the most photogenic of the bulbuls present today was the Streaked Bulbul. Being slightly more uncommon than the rest, it had our attention the moment it alighted on the fruiting tree. It may lack the colours of some of the other bulbuls but it always projects a sense a grace with its sleek body contour.
The fruiting tree also produced a few species of Leafbirds, Flowerpeckers and Sunbirds. Witnessing such a feast of colours and variety certainly build up our appetites and lunch came soon after that. Our next destination was the paddy fields of Kubang Semang. I drove straight to the spot where the wintering waders were performing well and sure enough, about 40 Grey-headed Lapwings were resting on a flooded field.
As my guests were enjoying their lapwing lifer, I scanned the vicinity for anything else. My senses went into overdrive when I spotted 3 ducks among the lapwings. I could hardly contain my emotions and for the first time today, it was the guide who was quivering with excitement and not his guests. Ducks winter in the hundreds where my guests call home and it will take a whole lot more than three for them to have the same reaction.
Anyway, upon further scrutiny, the ducks turned out to Garganeys. I felt I needed to justify myself by explaining how uncommon this species is here and that the ones we were looking at was my fourth record in all my years of birding.
Our last destination for the day was the Air Hitam Dalam Educational Forest. Like clockwork, we were greeted by the usual species upon our arrival at the rear car park. Unfortunately, things did not quite pick up after that and this Black Kite was probably the highlight for me at this site. Despite the initial hiccup at the beginning of the tour, we did have a good outing at the end of the day. And it is all thanks to some blind luck and a fruiting tree.